Raising Kids on The Cheap: Babies

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When I first started thinking about babies I was, thankfully, old enough to resist what the media was preaching. A few years earlier and I would have been convinced that my first priority as a pregnant woman was to paint and decorate a nursery. As it was, I felt that I knew what I would need to raise a baby, even though it was completely oppositional to mainstream advice. The “advice” was coming from well-meaning people, TV, movies, magazines, and, of course, the internet. My hope was that I could raise a happy, healthy kid without eighteen different baby bouncers/saucers/swings, annoying flashing toys, or expensive junk that you “need” such as a wipes warmer.

The Advice: Babies cost upwards of $8000 a year. In order to accomplish this, you should:

Our Hope: Babies aren’t as expensive as people say they are. To meet this goal we figured we would implement recommendations gathered from grandparents:

  • don’t bother decorating a nursery – they won’t notice
  • use cloth diapers (not the pretty kind which cost $20-30 each, but rather the old-school kind that cost $1-6 each – or less if you make them yourself)
  • breastfeed
  • enjoy the beauty of pre-worn clothing and accept all the hand-me-downs you are offered
  • if you can’t find free hand-me-downs, go to second-hand shops and find a stroller, high chair, etc. for a fraction of the price of a new one

No Nursery: We lived in a yurt when our daughter was born so we were able to live pretty cheaply. The yurt nullified the need to decorate a nursery since it is a giant round room. We didn’t end up using our crib much because it turned out to be blissfully easy to nurse laying down (read: sleep while baby nurses).

Cloth Diapers: If it had been up to me I would have probably spent hundreds on diapers, because I thought that it was necessary. Cloth diapers have become trendy and are therefore being marketed as an organic, natural alternative to disposables. I was told that it would cost $200-400 to get started with cloth-diapering. Thankfully, my mother-in-law gave me her old flats for free and told me I’d be fine. Our baby peed her diaper after about fifteen minutes whether she was in the pretty kind or in an old flat; the pretty diapers took days to dry whereas the flats took less than an hour, so we found that the old fashioned flats were not only cheaper, they were also a lot easier.

Breastfeed: We were given really nice glass bottles that I had every intention of using, but alas, my laziness reared its ugly head and I couldn’t bring myself to wash the pump, wash the bottle, dry the pump, dry the bottle, assemble the pump, pump the milk, refrigerate the milk, warm the milk…

Hand-Me-Downs: We were lucky to receive bags and boxes of baby clothing from friends and relatives out of the baby stage. Had we not been given so many things, I would have been at second-hand shops and yard sales sorting through piles. Yard sales are great, especially when you stumble upon parents in the “we are never having more kids” phase of life and want to get rid of everything. These parents often sell boxes of baby clothes for a few dollars. Wonderful.

the grumpy stare-down [hat, sweater, vest, and boots were all hand-me downs; overalls were made out of an old wool sweater]

the grumpy stare-down [hat, sweater, vest, and boots were all hand-me downs; overalls were made out of an old wool sweater]

We had second-hand everything: crib, high chair (a family piece from the 20’s), cloth diapers and clothing from my mother-in-law (she faithfully washed everything well and stored it for thirty years). We did get a new carseat (as a gift from grandparents, and great-aunts) because I was a bit leery about getting a second-hand one (although lots of people do find great used carseats).

I didn’t keep track of what we spent on our baby in her first year, but off the top of my head my estimate is that we spent about $100 on new diapers, clothing, and fabric (I got really excited about making baby clothes); $100 on travel expenses (we flew to Europe for two weeks when she was 6 months old and paid 10% of a regular ticket price for her); $100 on toys or clothing that I really liked (a set of wooden blocks, wool to knit her a doll, and a few cute sweaters).

Obviously, having a baby costs more than a couple hundred dollars if you take in to account the gas you need to drive to the prenatal appointments, the mountains of food you inhale because you are extra hungry from nursing, or the lack of paid work that goes on once the wee one arrives. The point is, however, that you needn’t listen to people who insist you need X amount of money to raise a child. Babies don’t need much to be happy. Given a blanket, a diaper, and a boob, most babies are quite content. Special circumstances such as health problems, or an inability to breastfeed certainly make things more of a challenge, but one can still keep the costs low with a bit of ingenuity.

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